Choosing a poem for the funeral of a loved one is no easy task – especially during lockdown when there are so many feelings and emotions to express. Experienced funeral celebrant Adele Chaplin shares her thoughts on suitable poems for a lockdown funeral.
Loss during lockdown has been difficult for many families. Many people have been unable to say their goodbyes or pay their respects in the normal way.
The restrictions on the size of funerals have meant that there have not been opportunities for gathering to celebrate and honour the end of a life. As a result of this, the funeral itself has become a more personal and meaningful celebration of life. Families have been trying to squeeze into a short time slot the commemoration and reflection that would usually be part of the larger ceremony and wake.
Poetry has taken on a meaningful role in lockdown funeral ceremonies. It is being used by many families to help express their thoughts during these challenging times.
Here are some pieces of poetry which may help to express your thoughts about the loss of a loved one during lockdown.
‘Death (If I Should Go)’ by Joyce Grenfell
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is Hell
But life goes on,
So sing as well.
The author and illustrator Chris Riddell has compiled a volume of poetry called Poems to save the world with. Within that, there is a section of poems about lockdown.
‘Lochan’ (for Jean Johnstone) by Kathleen Jamie
When all this is over I mean
to travel north, by the high
drove roads and cart tracks
probably in June,
with the gentle dog-roses
flourishing beside me. I mean
to find among the thousands
scattered in that land
a certain lochan,
Where water lilies rise
Like small fat moons,
and tied among the reeds,
underneath a rowan,
a white boat waits.
Some families choose poetry which shows how much their loved one is missed, like this one:
‘The Voice’ by Thomas Hardy
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me.
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you then.
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue grown!
Or Is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.
And finally, it is often good to ponder on the journey of life, rather than the death of a loved one – whether that death is unexpected or long awaited. The poem Farewell my Friends by Rabindranath Tagore focuses more on the journey of life, rather than the heartbreak of death.
‘Farewell my Friends’ by Rabindranath Tagore
Farewell My Friends
It was beautiful
As long as it lasted
The journey of my life.
I have no regrets
The pain I’ll leave behind.
Those dear hearts
Who love and care…
And the strings pulling
At the heart and soul…
The strong arms
That held me up
When my own strength
Let me down.
At the turning of my life
I came across
Friends who stood by me
Even when time raced me by.
Farewell, farewell My friends
I smile and
Bid you goodbye.
No, shed no tears
For I need them not
All I need is your smile.
If you feel sad
Do think of me
For that’s what I’ll like
When you live in the hearts
Of those you love
You never die.
Whichever poem you choose, it will be an important part of the ceremony. Some families prefer a humorous poem, while others prefer poems about love. But remember, the poetry used within a funeral ceremony doesn’t need to be about death or dying. You can choose a favourite family poem, or something from time shared together at school. It’s really up to you.
How do I choose a poem for a funeral?
Don’t worry! You don’t have to dig around in a library to find the perfect poem. Your humanist celebrant will ask the right questions so they are able to suggest something suited to the person you want to remember.
What is a humanist funeral ceremony?
A humanist funeral is a non-religious ceremony that focuses on the person who has died, the life they led, and the relationships they forged.
The ceremony is conducted by a humanist celebrant. It is both a celebration of a life and a dignified, personal farewell.
If you would like to discuss funeral plans with one of our celebrants, our online map makes it easy for you to find a celebrant near you.